Celebrating Thanksgiving as an expat

  • Thanksgiving
Published 10 months ago

Thanksgiving is widely known to be a traditional celebration in the United States with big family gatherings and lots of food, having originated with the European colonists sharing a meal with a few Native Americans to express gratitude for the autumn harvests. Expat.com gives you a few ideas to celebrate Thanksgiving as an expat.

Despite being an American festivity, people around the world are aware of the holiday, and its popularity has spread even more with the introduction of Black Friday sales everywhere. Today, many Americans abroad look for ways to celebrate Thanksgiving when they’re away from home, and many expats living in the US actively engage in this fun holiday.

Celebrate Friendsgiving


Not everyone is able to go home for Thanksgiving, and as a result, the concept of Friendsgiving was recently created. Friendsgiving brings friends and people from diverse backgrounds together, which many have argued was how Thanksgiving was created in the first place a peaceful celebration between two very different groups of people. Thanksgiving tends to bring out gratitude and kindness in people, hence many expats in the US tend to get invited to someone’s house to celebrate. Expats outside of the US enjoy Friendsgiving as it is an excellent alternative to a family-filled Thanksgiving holiday, as people can carry it out the way they see fit. For instance, the host can decide not to make a turkey and instead have all the guests pitch in to purchase one or perhaps prepare the meals together. Additionally, there is the added bonus of no travel nightmare and no family drama more reasons to be particularly thankful.

Enjoy a Thanksgiving meal and some alone time

Thanksgiving dinner alone

Despite what society tells you, Thanksgiving can be celebrated alone and still be thoroughly enjoyable. The holiday is all about being grateful, thinking about your achievements, and giving thanks. Many people who find themselves completely alone during the holiday find ways to make the most of it. The food aspect is very important, so many people will still prepare, or choose to purchase, a small traditional Thanksgiving meal with a few slices of turkey, some gravy, yams, and a dessert. Setting it all up on a nice plate at the dinner table with some light music in the background and peaceful and happy thoughts can be quite enjoyable.  

Go out for dinner

Dinner at restaurant

Due to the popularity of the holiday and knowing its importance to Americans, many other countries cater to their expat communities for such festivities. For instance, countries such as Cambodia, Malaysia, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Thailand, and many others, offer Thanksgiving menus on the day, which US expats thoroughly enjoy as it is a perfect way to celebrate without taking hours out of their day prepping the meals. Going out for dinner is especially ideal as they probably would not be getting a day off from work to prepare for a Thanksgiving feast anyway. If you’re an expat in the US, many restaurants around the country also offer Thanksgiving dinners for those who would rather celebrate at a restaurant.



A major aspect of Thanksgiving is expressing gratitude, which many use as an opportunity to give back. Whether you’re an expat in the US or an American abroad, you can find many ways to volunteer your time. The most popular volunteering activity in the US is to help provide food to people from low-income backgrounds, such as at Soup Kitchen or Meals on Wheels. In fact, those places are so popular that they often get an overwhelming amount of people to volunteer on Thanksgiving day, with no spots left and no resources to train them which is why it’s better to volunteer long-term. If that’s not an option, try something different and participate in a marathon such as the Turkey Trot, a race that takes place all over the country, benefits charities, and helps you to keep fit at the same time. Other options include donating to food banks, visiting your local nursing homes or homeless shelters, or sending care packages to troops abroad.  

Go to a cultural event

Thanksgiving customs around the world
Vassamon Anansukkasem / Shutterstock.com

If you’re an expat living in the US, there are plenty of fun activities to discover. If you’re an American expat, take the opportunity to learn about similar festivities in other regions. Countries in the Northern Hemisphere have the same seasonal changes around Thanksgiving, with plenty of autumn festivities to participate in. In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland for example, they celebrate Erntedank, and Canada has their own version of Thanksgiving in October. Additionally, many other countries around the world have their own ways of celebrating a good harvest and abundance, or festivals where they express gratitude and give thanks. Malaysia celebrates the Kadazan Festival in May; North and South Korea have their traditional harvest holiday called Chuseok, meaning “Autumn Eve”, Ghana celebrates Homowo, a festival of yams; China indulges in a three-day holiday during the Moon Festival in mid-autumn; and Israel spends seven days celebrating Sukkot.